MY MEMORIES OF INDEPENDENCE DAY, DECEMBER 12, 1963
I remember the day as if it was yesterday. The hype, talk, songs and preparations preceding the day had built my anticipation to the brim. I was a lanky boy who had lived twelve years under the colonial rule. I had raised and lowered the union jack as a boy scout, prayed to God to save our gracious queen (I don’t know from what). The prospect of raising a new flag raised my national pride and patriotism exponentially. I greatly desired to go to the national events in the capital and as a boy scout I would have a front row seat but my parents considered me too young and did not share my enthusiasm, they allowed my elder brother to go with our troop. For consolation, I was allowed to spend the night out in the local celebrations at Githunguri stadium. The first time since I was born that I had my parent’s blessings to spend a night out.
There were patriotic songs and speeches interspersed with radio commentaries from the national celebrations. The songs were in praise of the various leaders and those that went to the forest. There were prayers by various formal church leaders and traditional prayers with all being asked to face Mount Kenya (if you could find it in the dark). We shuffled and gawked waited for uhuru to come. The whole stadium was floodlit with gas lamps and packed with locals from all walks of life.
Our new and first member of parliament Waira Kamau was resplendent with his colobus monkey regalia occasionally switching on the radio and bringing it on the mike for us to follow the going on at the national celebrations in Nairobi. There were very few people with watches and the official time was our MP’s watch. Then the moment arrived, midnight December 11, 1963. At midnight, the whole stadium burst into cheers, ululations, clapping, shouts of uhuru! uhuru! I had never shaken so many hands, jumped up and down so much holding shoulders, hands, and hips of complete strangers. Then they lit a big bonfire.
My father as the local assistant chief had the responsibility of making sure there was enough wood and paraffin to ensure the fire would glow immediately it was lit at midnight. This lighting of fire is a tradition that followed every other independence anniversary for four or five years and then died. It was a worthy substitute for fireworks, which were reserved for the city celebrations. We celebrated the first six hours of independence singing, dancing, and warming ourselves with the fire of independence. There were some ex Mau Maus with their long hair regaling us with tales of their exploits in the forest, some exaggerated, and songs that kept us awed.
Inevitably the morning came and I had to find my way home a jubilant independent boy greeting all in my path in the only greeting used by everybody that day, Uhuru! And the reply haughty or humble was always uhuru. I was a true living witness to the coming of uhuru. Stories had been exchanged prior to the day, of the changes that would occur with our attaining independence, no one had told us that the changes would be gradual and at time painful. Therefore, when Christmas came and went and we were back to school in January with same teachers, same uniforms, same rules, same caning, I realized that uhuru was not everything it was taunted to be. Uhuru was not the end but the beginning. And so, when our scout troop raised the new Kenyan flag a few weeks later and we learned to sing the new national anthem, when the government vehicles changed their number plates from OHMS to GK, when we started seeing fewer and fewer white administrators in the countryside and hearing more and more black leaders talk about uhuru na kazi, it dawned on us that uhuru had come. Only some had to do more kazi and others enjoy the uhuru.
Charles N Wairia
North Carolina USA